A man on trial committed "an act of stupidity" when he disposed of a chainsaw used to dismember the body of Kenneth O'Brien but he did not impede the investigation "in any shape", his defence barrister told a jury at the Central Criminal Court today.
However, the prosecution submitted that the accused knew what he did when he disposed of the chainsaw and fully understood the consequences of his actions.
Damien Colgan SC, defending, today gave his closing speech in the trial of Paul Wells Junior (aged 33), who is charged with impeding the apprehension or prosecution of his father Paul Wells Senior (aged 51) by disposing of a chainsaw nearly four years ago. The prosecution allege the accused did so knowing that his father had taken a life.
Mr Wells Junior, with an address at Beatty Park, Celbridge, Co Kildare has pleaded not guilty to disposing of a chainsaw motor at a time unknown between January 19 and 20, 2016 in Co Kildare and not guilty to disposing of a chainsaw blade and chain on January 20, 2016, in the same location.
Giving his closing statement today, Mr Colgan said the accused went to gardaí against the advice of his family and was not obliged to answer one question put to him by the authorities. Evidence has been given that Mr Wells Jnr made a voluntary statement to gardaí at Leixlip Garda Station on February 5, 2016, and was arrested the next day on suspicion of murdering Mr O'Brien with a firearm.
Mr Colgan said his client had not impeded the investigation as the blade and chain belonging to the chainsaw were recovered by gardaí on February 6, a day after the accused gave specific instructions as to their locations.
Pointing to the evidence given by Detective Garda Padraig Cleary, the lawyer said the witness had accepted that if Mr Wells Jnr returned the chainsaw to Wells Snr, the chances were that the evidence would have been lost.
Mr Wells Jnr committed "an act of stupidity" when he disposed of the chainsaw in a panic - there was evidence that he was hyperventilating at the side of the canal - but he did not impede the investigation "in any shape", submitted Mr Colgan.
The blade was not thrown into the water at The Curragh and was instead placed facing up, while the chain was hung from a branch, which could be seen, said Mr Colgan, adding that Mr Wells Jnr had directed gardaí straight to the locations.
Evidence has been given that Mr Wells Jnr disposed of the chainsaw blade and chain in The Curragh on January 20 by placing the blade of the chainsaw on the edge of the pond so it could be found and the chain on a bush so it could be seen.
Mr Colgan said the jury had heard the accused was physically assaulted by his father from a young age and had grown up in a violent and volatile environment. His big fear was coming forward with the chainsaw as he harboured genuine fear of what could happen to him, he said, adding that his fear continues to this day. He asked the jury what sort of a father tries to implicate their son in a murder.
The prosecution must prove the accused knew his father had committed an offence when he disposed of the chainsaw, said the barrister, adding that speculating the accused might have known does not get one across the hurdle.
Mr Colgan emphasised that his client did not have the requisite knowledge on January 19 and 20 as to what his father had done. The prosecution had not "got over this hurdle" and the proper verdicts were not guilty in respect of both counts, he concluded.
Addressing the jury today, prosecution counsel Michael Bowman SC said this was an emotive case which evoked one’s natural sympathies as it told a "harrowing tale of childhood trauma" and "an abuse of family relationships". However, the barrister told the jury that sympathy could not form part of their determination in the case.
The barrister argued that the accused knew what he did on January 19 and 20 and fully understood the consequences of his actions. “Intention can be formed in a split second, as quickly as it takes someone to throw something into a canal, pond or bush,” he indicated, adding that one can revisit their decision instantly but the dye had already been cast.
Furthermore, Mr Bowman said that while it was to Mr Wells Jnr’s credit that he made a voluntary statement to gardaí, this was a mitigating factor in the case as he could not undo what had been done, namely that he believed the chainsaw was used as a weapon to hurt Mr O'Brien. His 14 interviews with gardaí did not “wash away his initial actions” and the accused knew this to be the case, said Mr Bowman.
The lawyer told the jurors that Mr Wells Jnr neglected to inform gardaí about the most incriminating elements of his behaviour because he knew it was not in his interest. “To tell the whole truth would confirm he was guilty of the offence charged,” he added.
Mr Bowman said the prosecution had proven that Mr Wells Jnr disposed of the chainsaw, its motor and blade because he knew Mr Wells Snr had used it to murder Mr O’Brien.
Mr Wells Jnr told gardaí that he regretted throwing the chainsaw into the water and did not want to hinder the investigation. "That is a curious thing to say in the context of what he has done," said Mr Bowman, adding that disposing of articles is a strange way not to hinder an investigation.
The environment in The Curragh is remote and the blade and chain had little or no chance of being found inadvertently, he said.
Mr Bowman clarified:
It was suggested that Mr Wells Jnr took the chain and placed it like a piece of tinsel on a Christmas tree, said the barrister, when gardaí had to use slash hooks to retrieve it.
Mr Bowman said the accused offered no explanation as to why he broke up the chainsaw. "It is quite clear that when he opens the chainsaw, he knows he is dealing with a weapon with blood on it and some person has been chopped up," he said, adding that whether he knew this was Mr O'Brien or not was irrelevant.
Mr Bowman said the accused told gardaí he disposed of the items in order to protect his family but the only way he could really protect them was by impeding the apprehension of his father.
The lawyer submitted that the accused had a choice of whether to dispose of the chainsaw but had exercised poor judgement and chosen wrongly. In summary, he said the defence of reasonable excuse did not exist in the case and the appropriate verdict on the evidence was one of guilt.
Wells Snr, of Barnamore Park, Finglas in Dublin 11 was last year found guilty of murdering Mr O'Brien at his home in Finglas on January 15 or 16, 2016. The killer admitted that, after shooting the 33-year-old father in his back garden, he dismembered his body with a chainsaw and dumped it in a suitcase in the Grand Canal.
Ms Justice Carmel Stewart will begin charging the jury of six men and six women on Thursday before they commence their deliberations.